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Academy proving success of 'blended model'

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) believes a highly successful first year for its online academy is proof that the industry is embracing the ‘blended learning’ model for technical training.

BESA President Neil Brackenridge

The BESA Academy opened for business last August and has since seen over 6,000 trainees pass through its virtual doors taking advantage of almost 4,000 hours of online training across its broad programme of training courses, assessments and CPDs.

The Association had been developing the Academy model for some time but fast-tracked the opening to help the sector deal with restrictions posed by pandemic lockdowns and the closure of many ‘physical’ training facilities.

Since the launch it has developed 19 courses for online delivery and supported 10 separate apprenticeships in Scotland and Wales.

All BESA Academy modules are accessible from a smartphone, tablet, or laptop whether the user is at home, at work or on the move. This flexibility has proved very popular. Building services professionals, including apprentices and more experienced engineers, have been using the Academy’s portal to access the resources needed to improve their existing skills and learn new ones while also keeping their qualifications and competencies up to date.

Employers and managers have been able to keep their workforces fully qualified and able to comply with legislation and industry standards despite a shortage of physical training places. Being able to prove competency via the Academy has also helped many with their applications for SKILLcards.

Value
“Online learning really came into its own during the lockdown months and has continued to accelerate,” said BESA President Neil Brackenridge. “We have been able to prove the value of having access to course materials from any place and at any time. All you need is an internet connection.

“Our plans were already well advanced before the crisis hit, but the surge in demand for this kind of ‘blended’ model of online and physical training accelerated our efforts. We are now definitely in a new era for technical training with employers and staff expecting much more flexibility from their training providers reflecting the hybrid world of work we now inhabit.”

All Academy courses are flexible and can be completed in ‘bite sized chunks’. Each candidate is building an online ‘skills passport’ storing all their completed training, competencies, and qualifications in one place for ease of access. And far from replacing the elements of training that require a physical, on-site activity, the BESA Academy is helping to make hands-on building engineering courses more affordable.

“Some colleges had already been forced to discontinue engineering apprenticeships, for example, because they are more expensive and complex than other types of training,” said BESA’s Director of Training and Skills Helen Yeulet.  “Delivering parts of the content remotely is one way of making some courses more economically viable and accessible.

“Online learning is not a substitute for practical training, but a complement to it. We are actively seeking to increase our network of regional training centre partners all over the country to bolster face-to-face learning too.”

The Academy is also helping to broaden the appeal of building engineering careers; particularly in younger age groups who expect to be able to access resources and information online and at their own convenience. This will help engineering employers looking to modernise their approach, according to Brackenridge.

“Working remotely is now well established and it is up to those of us who employ engineers to be more flexible,” he said. “Not only does online learning broaden our appeal, it also cuts down on travelling costs and time away from home and work.”

The Academy has also been used to support the process of re-deploying workers facing redundancy in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, who can quickly pick up additional skills to move from one part of the sector to another – so keeping vital expertise within the industry.

“Whole life learning is a crucial part of the Academy model,” said Yeulet. “There is also growing demand for re-skilling suited to modern methods of working and “green technology skills”, such as the increased use of digital systems and off-site manufacture.”

Partners
The Academy has developed a series of online courses with BESA affiliate members and other industry partners. For example, the BESA Health and Safety Environment course and test was produced in partnership with Mitsubishi Electric.  This six-module programme covers the latest requirements for keeping workers safe and meeting new site operating procedures (SOPs) developed by the Construction Leadership Council during the pandemic.

Understanding SOPs was made mandatory for site access , as the Construction Leadership Council’s core safety approach for COVID19. BESA went one step further incorporating SOP questions into the health and safety test that forms an essential mandatory part of the SKILLcard application process, whilst making the training free to all online

It also produced a heat pump installation course with Worcester Bosch to address surging demand in this area following the government’s announcement that the technology would form a core part of its drive for net zero carbon emissions. This was one of the first courses specifically developed to address the government’s net zero ambitions and is designed to give industry professionals the additional skills they need to be able to work with fast evolving technologies.

 

16 August 2021

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